March Madness

by Pablo Harris

010 or 051. All calls he ever received here always began with these prefixes. So when 006-180-9951-0299 flashed on the vibrating LG in his palm, he didn’t quite know what to think. 006 followed by eleven other digits he didn’t recognize? It  must be from abroad. Thinking the worst, he was expecting to hear some tragic news from back home. Why else would anyone call direct from the US to the ROK?

“Excuse me, I got to take this, Babe,” pardoning himself before stepping through the heady smoke of grilled flesh and cigarettes and the maze of low-lying tables to the door.

*  *  *


Odelay, Pablocito! Pinche cabron! You should be here. Fuck.”

“Big T, no way! What the, I mean, of course there’s the emails and the Skypes but no one has ever called me from the States. I didn’t think, other than Moms, didn’t think that anyone had my number.”

“You can run but you can’t hide, cabron. You may have dodged a bullet here or there, ran from Bad Michelle, evaded the IRS, but not from us vato.”

“Alright, ha, shit, man. Well, how you doin’? What’s happening?”

“I’m fuckin’ good, brotha. Well, other than some serious fuzz and shampoo effect going on after last night, having fun, man. I got so buzzed out last night couldn’t even count to 21 anymore, would just stare at the shoe waiting for it to shuffle again and make that kind sound. You know that fffllit-ffflliit-ffflliit-ffflliit-ffflliit-flit.Vegas1.jpg

“Oh, yeah, you must be in Vegas for Hutty’s bachelor party, huh?”

“Hell yeah, man. And you should fucking be here, too!”


“Anyway, son a bitch man, pit boss came over and asked me to leave. Sucked because we had the whole wedding party on this table. Byrdie, Worm, Chunk, Lung-er, Raj, having a good time, man. Raj is all suited up, clawing at anything that passed by, bringing bitches over to party with us, pretending he’s all Vince Vaughn Swingers and shit. You know how that guy is. He’s a jackass but he knows how to do it up and damnit if he doesn’t smoke some righteous weed. And he paid for last night’s entertainment.”

“True. Wait, what was last night’s entertainment? Where’d you go; Déjà Vu, Olympic Gardens, or my favorite, Spearmint Rhino?”

“Nah, man, in house! We got the Vagitarian Delight delivered up to Hutty’s suite, two of ‘em.”

“There were two of them? Damnit! I thought Hutty insisted on no strippers at the bachelor party?”

“Come on, man, you think Raj is going to let that fly. No dice, Chino. And, shit man, you would have loved one of them. Red hair, kind of petite, natural, came in wearing glasses-”

“You’re making this up.”

“Nah, man, truth. I’ll send you a picture. You can find her ad online. Her name is Ginger, of course.”

“What about the other one?”

“Uh, she was ahh-ight. Good, good enough. You wouldn’t have liked her, though. Blonde, tanned, nice body, big fake tits, a little butterfly tramp stamp, of course. Your average SoCal/Vegas slut. I forget what her name was, something like Jasmine or Devin. But, what the fuck man, where the fuck are you?”

“Um, uh, just finishing up lunch, in this town called Geoje, driving back home. Where you at exactly?”


“Where am I? Come on, man, it’s Saturday night in March. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten? Where your shit began, where you should be now, where you taught us all how to gamble, how to drink, cocktail waitresses, hooker shoes, all the important shit in life, man.  Caesar’s sportsbook, Bitch!”

“Uh, nice.”25madn600.1.jpg

“Chuck you, Farley, you don’t even know. Nice? Damn, what’s happened to you? It’s Saturday, Caesar’s man, sportsbook! It’s March Madness here, man. There’s games ‘til like midnight, mad action, and they’re running late at Hollywood Park tambien. I know you like them ponies. On one side of the ‘book 30 screens. We got UNC, UCLA, Duke, ‘Zags, ‘Zona, and everybody is going crazy for every Butler basket, looking for another Cinderella. On the other side is that ding-a-ding-ding, ‘And they’re off!, ‘And down the stretch they come!’ Your peoples, all hunched over little desks drinking scotch and bloodies, crunching numbers. Old men jumping around with rolled up newspapers in their hands, shaking their fists; it’s magic I tell you. We’re all looking to cash that ticket, man. Your peoples looking for the Daily Deuce.”

“That would be the Daily Double.”

“Right. What did I say?

“Daily Deuce.”

“Right. Shit. Like my parlay this afternoon. But that’s ok, we still got a dozen games to go. I’m going to cash out a parlay today, hit the tables, then, fuck. Raj is pushing for us to go to one of them gay ass clubs, but whatever, he’s getting the cover. Anyway, what are you doing? Where are you?”


“What’s a Geoje?”

“It’s this little island in the south. Ellie and I came down here for the weekend, get out of our claustrophobic little town for a while.”

“Ellie’s that girl you mentioned before, right? That China girl you work with?”

“Yes, my Korean teaching assistant.”

“Teaching assistant? Your teaching assistant butters your corn? That’s some Mad Men shit, yo. That doesn’t sound so bad, I guess. But still, you should be here. Oh Shit! I didn’t tell you the best part about last night, the kind deal, the 1-3-5.”


“What’s the 1-3-5?”

“After the double-dong show, you know, a la Jennifer Connelly in Requiem for a Dream, these girls offer to go back to our rooms if anyone is interested in a ‘1-3-5’: one hundred for a hand job, three for a blow, five for a bang.”

“What did you opt for?”

“The do-it-yourself with help from the spank bank.”

“What? What are you doing in Vegas then, man? You should go to Yellowstone if all you want is Old Faithful. Terrible.”

“Ha-Ha-Ha, Pablo, but I’ll tell you what’s terrible; you should be here. You should’ve been at this bachelor party last night and you should be standing next to your boy in this wedding coming up, man. You know it’s true. Fuck, now I’m getting pissed.”

“I know.”

“No, you don’t. If you know, then why the fuck are you over there?”

“Look, can we talk about this later? I got to go, we got to get back on the road, get home.”

“This is your home, Bitch!”

“Hey, have fun out there, bro, but take it easy. I don’t want to hear that you ended up in the drunk tank out by McCarron like the last time.”

“Take it easy? Are you kidding me? You, of all people, are telling me to take it easy? For nearly 20 years I’ve had to fireman carry your drunk ass out of parties, out of bars. Or keep frat boys from pounding your face because you’re playing grab-ass with their ladies. Or had to put up with your moping ass on my couch for months every time you left your old lady and – “

“Yeah, well, maybe that’s why I left.”

“Or maybe you left because you are too much of a pussy to get a real job and tough it out like the rest of us. You want to teach some Chinaman’s kids instead of your Godson. Or your friends’ kids back home, whatever, man. I got your back whatever you want to do, do what you got to do, but don’t forget where your home is, who you’re talking to, and tell me to take it easy.”

“You’re right. I apologize. Have fun. I should’ve left it at that.”

“Damn right, I’m right.”

“Look, I got to go. Thanks for calling. It’s good to hear you all are together, having a good time. Say what up to the guys for me, alright?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, halftime’s over anyway. I guess I’ll talk to you later, Paul.”

*  *  *

He lit a cigarette, took a few long, deep drags, before chucking it down onto the pavement in frustration. No one ever called him by his Christian name. Walking back inside the galbi joint, he feigned a smile to the supple young woman sitting cross-legged on a straw mat, beaming up at him.

“Who was that?”

“My buddy Big T.”

“Cool! Is he coming to visit?”

“Um, uh, I don’t know.”

“I hope so. I hope your best friend comes to visit and I get to meet him. You talk about him so much I feel like I already know him. How is he?”


“Is everything alright?”


“You sure? You .  .  .”

“I said I’m fine.”

“Well, I hope you said hi for me?”

“Why would I do that? You’ve never met him, he’s never met you. What’s the point? Why would I say ‘hi’ for you?”

“I just thought that . . . after this weekend . . . I just thought that . . .”

“Thought what?”

“I thought that we were . . . After this weekend . . . We spent the weekend in Geoje together . . . The two of us . . . I guess I thought . . .”294787_120103112430128_STD.jpg

She slunk her head in her lap for a few seconds before springing up and rushing out the door. He threw back his glass of Hite, grabbed the check and paid the ajumma. He met Ellie at the rented sedan and they drove off. Silently they crossed the bridge to the mainland, her virtue left behind on the island, sunk in a seaside love motel. And his confidence, the certainty which he once had when he made the decision to pass on a sure thing, when he decided to fold a winning hand and throw in all the cards in for another draw, abruptly jolted and rattled. The gilding of an inchoate engagement which should have held its luster at least through the spring was now irreparably chipped and tarnished. Silently, they headed for home.

Another Expat Blog?

Man-at-a-computer-keyboar-006By Mr. Motgol

I live in a large city in Korea, a hissing, crowded place, where the vertigo-inducing choice of eateries seems almost infinite: glance down most any street and you’ll see at least several brightly lit joints serving up pungent, pickled, red-slathered grub. This town is thick with restaurants and I’m convinced that it would take several lifetimes to sample them all. The array is not only dizzying, it’s in a constant state of flux: That great grilled beef place has now changed to marinated duck; what was once a Kimbap Chungook now sells freshly sliced sea creatures, plucked from the aquariums installed out front and dispatched on the spot; the old steamed dumpling joint manned by the two grandmas has been gutted and turned into a garish, smart phone shop that perpetually blares K-pop at murderous volumes. Welcome to gentrification, Korean style.

Nothing rules the local streets more than my city’s specialty dish: dwaeji gukbap. This is a soup made from tender sliced pork, green onion and rice in a milky broth that can only be described as savory concentrate. It’s a big hit all over town, with an impossible amount of restaurants serving up steaming bowls of the stuff. My neighborhood is host to one of the more famous gukbap restaurants in the city. The place is always crowded and rightly so: it’s damned good. The pork is perfectly cooked and served up in portions that are beyond generous. Sometimes you feel as if there is more meat than broth.

In Korea, a good thing is not allowed to stand alone. When I moved into the area, this well-known restaurant already had a copycat boiling up pork just a block away. She was smaller and decidedly more hardscrabble, but the soup was decent enough. Soon, a brand new gukbap house opened directly next door to the established place. Now there were three and guess what? The new joint was really good, good enough to be half full with customers most of the time–a proper spillover coup. We now had a little soup war raging, with three places competing for the almighty won of the neighborhood’s savvy, pork hungry customers. This brouhaha drew a new entrepreneur into the fray; he went all in, opening a veritable Gukbap Palace right across the street from the main two. This place was massive–three times the size of either of the other three–with a huge, gleaming kitchen and a full, at-the-ready staff of red-aproned ajummas. There was only one problem: No one came. The place was doomed to a lifetime of empty tables. Our neighborhood, set smack in the middle of Korea’s dwaeji gukbap metropolis, had finally reached market saturation. The first, shabby impostor shuttered its doors, followed by the big shiny new store some months later. This left just the two: The original, which is still always slammed with customers, and its less-busy next-door doppelganger, a fine place that also happens to serve up a damned good bowl of soup.

*          *          *

Welcome to Sweet Pickles and Corn. We are a blog. An expat blog. In Korea. This should impress no one. Sometimes I think that Korea needs another expat blog like my neighborhood needs another dwaeji gukbap joint. Cyberspace is filled with foreigners–both fresh-faced and jaundiced–who vent forth their feelings about living life in a strange land with strange people and even stranger food. Haven’t we already read it all? The internet has turned so many expatriates into wannabe Hemingways, Londons, and Therouxs, with most failing to rise to the greatness of their heroes. This is fine, as not everyone is aiming for literary heights or vying for  a book deal. Some folks blog about their expat adventures as a way to keep their friends and families in the loop; others use public writing as a kind of pressure-release valve. Sometimes it just feels good to rant.

So then, who are we? 

We are a collective of foreigners living and working in South Korea. Most of us are experienced bloggers. A couple are new to the form. All of us are writers. Those of us who have solo blogged before realize that there is power in numbers, so we’ve decided to band together and concentrate our efforts in one happy venue. And here it is. Hoo-ray.

We are all using pseudonyms, though those of you who know us will easily find us out. Hell, one of us even uses his actual photo in his avatar, so secrecy isn’t really the point here. We just thought we’d each choose a nom-de-plum as a laugh, and to also keep the focus on the writing, instead of the person. Who knows, like KISS, we may one day appear without our makeup, shattering the mystery once and for all. But never did KISS suck worse than they did sans greasepaint, so for now, fake names it is.

Why Sweet Pickles & Corn?


I hate sweet pickles. They are detestable snacks soaked in rat piss and jarred in the swampy furnace of Satan’s kitchen. Koreans love them though, so much so that packets of the things are included with every pizza delivered throughout the country.

I like corn on the cob, but free kernels somehow fail to elicit my affection. Yet it’s all over here. Corn, like sweet pickles, shows up in strange places in Korea, often paired with dishes like donkasuor as a topping on pizza, which itself always arrives with sweet pickles (see above paragraph).

Both sweet pickles and corn are an example of Korea embracing something Western and somehow failing, at least in the eyes of many of us. These vegetables are just weird, really–overly processed and canned. One is obscenely uniform and comically green, while the other is electrically yellow and passes undigested through our bodies, ultimately studding our shit like tiny nuggets of gold. Sweet pickles and corn: the both look and sound just plain silly. It’s our aim to add a taste of this absurdity to this blog.

What do we hope to accomplish?

We are a Korea blog only by default. All of the writers live in Korea, so Korea will color most every word typed and posted. I don’t think we really need to worry about that. This, however, does not mean that all the pieces will literally be about Korea; often, prima facie, they will not. This is an anything-goes type of forum. I expect we will see a lot of memoir, some criticism, lists, rants, short stories, and above all, humor. We only have one aim: Like my neighborhood’s dwaeji gukbab, we want the writing featured here Sweet Pickles and Corn to be damned good. And I am confident that the cast of characters assembled for this endeavor is up to the muthafuckin’ task.

What you won’t see are pictures of temples, accounts of afternoons spent hiking, or enthusiastic reports of that life-changing day when we learned to make kimchee with our church group. Nor will photos of food be prominently featured for their own sake, though it could happen once or twice. While definitely eschewing the bright-eyed, Pollyanna, “Isn’t Korea amazing?” schtick, we also hope to never venture into the tired, played-out terrain of the bitter lifer, crapping on Korea and our fellow expats at every chance we get. Is there anything more tedious than a Westerner bemoaning the fact that he got elbowed in the subway, damning the local supermarket for discontinuing his favorite brand of soda, or hating on someone who has the audacity to have lived here for less than 7 years?

So, once again, welcome to Sweet Pickles and Corn. Come on in and set a spell. I know that the internet is big and the choices might be endless, but who knows? You might just like what we’re offering up. It just may be damned good. If not, you can always get your money back. This, we guarantee.